Fuel traceability and reformation of testing regime keys to avoid bad bunkers

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Quality problems remain a pain for the bunker industry and in order for the operators to avoid dealing with bad bunkers, they need to agree with their counter-parties a specific testing methodology, deepen their knowledge in the various ISO specifications and source their fuel from credible suppliers. That said from Timothy Cosulich, CEO of bunker supplier Frateli Cosulich, during the Asian Tanker Conference in Singapore which took place earlier this year.

Fratelli Cosulich delivers around 6 million tons of bunker fuels per year in Singapore via a fleet of seven bunker tankers. Despite the several quality issues reported last year in Singapore, the company did not experience any problem. However, the industry’s inability to address the cause around the quality issues made Timothy Cosulich to explore the situation further, he said during his speech. As a result the company tested all of the fuels that it delivered and in all of them traces of chemicals, such as phenols, were found, though in low concentrations.

Despite these findings, the laboratories are not in position to advise what is the max allowable concentration of such chemicals in order for the fuels to remain suitable for use and whether their combination with another fuel component might create further compatibility problems.

According to Mr. Cosulich, the fuel testing regime is currently not perfect. First of all, the testing procedure is time consuming; the detailed tests might take several days and it does not help operators evaluate whether their fuel is suitable for use. Furthermore, each laboratory might use a different testing methodology which may result into conflicts. Frateli Cosulich now uses ASTM methodology in its laboratory tests and according to the company’s CEO the use of uniform testing standards is a step to the right direction.

Another concern, Mr. Cosulich added, is the regulatory framework around ISO specifications. Currently, either the ISO 2010 or the ISO 2017 specification is used. However, none of them appears to be helpful in order for the industry to overcome the contamination issues. ISO 2010 says that no chemicals are allowed in fuels, something which is unrealistic if we consider that all fuels included such chemicals. On the other hand, ISO 2017 says that chemicals are not allowed in concentrations that make them unsuitable for use. However, no-one appears to be aware of those levels. “The only way for a buyer to prove that the fuel is unsuitable for use, is to use it”, Mr. Cosulich says.

Finally, a special reference was made to another pitfall of the current regime: The traceability of fuel. The lack of transparency in the fuel’s path from the point of origin to the the point of delivery makes it more difficult to evaluate its quality and understand who is the faulty party in the supply chain. Once we are able to really trace the fuel and the quality issues back to the origin, then, that’s going to give a lot more trust to the whole supply chain, Mr. Cosulich added.

With IMO 2020 in the pipeline, more types of fuels will appear and there are more chances for operators to come across contaminated bunkers. Therefore, it is really important a working group to take place among all the stakeholders where all these issues to be addressed, Mr. Cosulich concluded.

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